Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Colli Euganei: Bordeaux blends on volcanic soils

The Colli Euganei is one of Italy’s less well-known but distinctive wine regions. Situated close to Venice, between Padua and Vicenza, it is a series of hills of volcanic origin whose main attraction is the thermal springs. Abano Terme, close by, has endless spa hotels from the grand to the functional. If you can tear yourself away from the mud treatments and warm water swimming, there is a lot to do. Activities include cycling (both on relatively flat dedicated tracks and up and down the hills), walking, cultural events and, of course, food and wine. The highlight of the last is undoubtedly Colli Euganei Bordeaux blends.

The two wine denominations of Colli Euganei

There are two denominations covering the same area of the hills. Colli Euganei DOC covers a wide range of wines made in the area. These include Serprino (in shorthand, Prosecco made in these hills, see my recent post on Prosecco Superiore DOCG), whites and reds, still and sparkling, made from international and local varieties. However, it is used principally for blends or single-variety wines from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and even Carménère. In other words, the inspiration is Bordeaux. Noble families introduced these varieties in the area after 1850. In line with this preference, Colli Euganei rosso must be made from Merlot (40–80 per cent), the three other Bordeaux varieties (20–60 per cent) and may include the local Raboso (up to 10 per cent). In the three years to 2020, the average area devoted to Colli Euganei DOC has been 424 hectares (ISMEA data).

The second denomination is Colle Euganei Fior d’Arancio DOCG. Fior d’Arancio (orange flower) is the local name for Moscato Giallo. This variety, while clearly a Muscat, is spicier than the much more common Moscato Bianco. Historically many of the Fior d’Arancio wines were sweet; today they are mainly dry even if the sweet passito version is delicious. A sparkling wine can also be made. The average area recently devoted to Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio DOCG has been 137 hectares.

The landscape and its producers

The landscape of the Colli Euganei is marked by classic volcanic cones where ancient volcanoes broke through the limestone seabed of centuries ago. As a result, there are volcanic, alluvial and limestone soils. In a relatively small area, 10 kilometres by 20 kilometres, there is a great variety of sites from which growers can choose. In simple terms, the northern part of the denomination is cooler than the southern part as it is more exposed to cold weather from the north. It also has more clay and marl, while there are a few areas in the south that have markedly limestone soils. The variety of soils, aspects and altitude (50–400 metres) allows growers to choose the coolest sites for Chardonnay, Manzone Bianco and Moscato Giallo and the warmer and more fertile sites for the red Bordeaux varieties.

The largest producer in the area is the co-operative but otherwise, the properties range from small (five hectares) up to 40 hectares or so. High quality, virtually unknown Bordeaux blends and single varietal Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can be found at Vignalta (the pioneer), Il Filò delle Vigne, boutique Reassi and the relative newcomer Quota 101. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bordeaux blends can age well in the bottle: see the pictures below of a 1997 bottle from Il Filò still in excellent condition. There is great value to be had here as the wines are not well known, even in the Veneto.

In search of local grape varieties

As we are in Italy, someone will be asking about local varieties. These do indeed exist, especially the reds, often with names that sound like something more familiar. Friularo (not Friulano) is a very late ripening red variety that makes a good traditional method sparkling rosé at Vignalta. Marzemino Nera Bastardo (not of course the more common Marzemino), Turchetta and Corbina (not Valpolicella’s Corvina) can be blended to make pleasantly rustic, brambly, reds with tannins and staying power. But the quantities grown are tiny and producers mainly prefer to make modern-style, oak-aged Bordeaux blends. Obscure grape varieties and a little-known region make for a really tough sell, while the high-quality Bordeaux blends at least offer the producers a wine that most wine lovers will recognise.

As noted, there is far more to Colli Euganei than just very good wine. It has natural beauty, if, due to the former volcanic activity, in a slightly surreal style. There is a plethora of high-quality local food products. These include local olive oil at Frantoio Evo del Borgo and artisanal salumi at family-owned Salumificio Fontana. The restaurants include cutting-edge Incàlmo in Este and the much more traditional Antica Trattoria Ballotta in Torreglia. The historic Villa dei Vescovi can be visited. As a bonus for wine lovers, it houses the Strada del vino’s wine shop.

Colli Euganei: volcanic cone
Colli Euganei: volcanic cone

With thanks to the Strada del vino Colli Euganei for the support for this visit. You have so much to offer!

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